Review: ‘Corpse Bride’

Short running time, but all the spooky fun that was promised was indeed delivered.

Once upon a time in a Victorian setting, the recently-rich Van Dort family makes an arrangement with the status-conscious Everglot family. Victor Van Dort (voice of Johnny Depp) is to wed Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), neither of whom have met. While Victoria seems resolved but hopeful, Victor is so terrified of the notion of marriage that he cannot bring himself to even complete his vows during a rehearsal. Deep in a wintry forest, Victor gains the resolve to complete his vows and proves it by placing the wedding ring on a twig… which unfortunately turns out to be the finger of a corpse that demands Victor keeps his vows.

What exactly is Tim Burton’s obsession with death, marriage, and the afterlife? The world may never know but these subjects appear in his films again and again, with Corpse Bride combining the best elements of Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Edward Scissorhands. Essentially, this latest work is the culmination of everything that’s come before, and a musical besides! It’s dark and evil, yet enlightening and hopeful. And while there exists the familiar shapes from Nightmare in the production design, there are also elements reminiscent of the animation from Monty Python, but we haven’t come across whether this was intentional or not.

Little touches show that the stop-motion genre has come a long way, and after a few moments watching, the vision takes over for the knowledge of the filmmaking. Computer imagery adds fire and other impossible bits to enhance the overall look of the finished film. Extra fun had by production designers is all over the film, including “Harryhausen LTD” as the piano maker’s trademark. With only the faintest hints of Nightmare to be found, Danny Elfman’s original soundtrack fits this new amalgamation of Burton’s imagination.

The dream cast voice work is top notch, but a few of the early “group” singalongs become muddled while trying to hear all the lyrics. Perhaps this was the fault of the theater’s sound system, but the group singing sounded incidental, as if it wasn’t supposed to sound rehearsed. Combined with a short running time, it also feels like something didn’t make it into the film or was pulled out, but the story generally feels complete. These are nitpicks, of course, and fans of Burton and/or his Nightmare will find plenty to love (and certainly will find plenty of merchandise to buy).

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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